Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Positive Thinking

My positive thought is at how well our transformation into IB is going.  As we meet with other buildings in the district, I'm noticing that we have been better instructed or lead in our training. 

This past Friday, we sat with another building and an IB trainer.  While I did learn many things - I realized that we were farther along in our experiences with IB.  We had units that were done, ideas we could talk from and tasks that were already completed.  It felt good to know that we were doing what we needed...like we were the "cool kids".

Frequently, I feel like we are the last ones being told stuff and that our plates are overloaded.  This year, I feel like I can take a breath.  It's always rushed at the beginning - new year, new kids to get to know, etc. But right now I feel good. 

Our Literacy team seems to have found our rhythm...we have lessons going more smoothly, communication is better and we're getting more into the flow of things.  The kids have seemed to find their flow and groove as well.  The honeymoon period is over, but things - for the most part - are still good. 

I'm hoping the positive vibes are stick around.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

this year....

So, last year ended interestingly.  I wasn't sure I would blog again...but I decided that I needed to keep at it.  It's one thing that keeps me sane and helps me work through things that I need to. 

This year - the word that I'm working on is patience.  My classes are very nice this year...it sounded like we may have some issues - but they have obviously matured and are a nice group.  I am being challenged a different way this year.  A lot of my students are struggling...they need to be told directions a lot and are easily distracted.  Now, I know that you you're thinking - "well, they're teenagers, of course they are..."  and you're right, but it's just creating a challenge for me.

My lesson for this year is learning to be kind.  Don't get me wrong - I can still get grumpy with them, but I'm trying to understand that sometimes, I get more than they do.  They're seeing it for the first time - I may be seeing it for the 12th....

So, while I reign myself in, remembering that these guys are not as independent as I sometimes wish they were - I am again learning a new skill.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

something new....

Ugh...some days I wish I had all the money in the world.  I mean that.  But not necessarily for just anything....for supplies.

I happily discovered that my students were proficient on this pretest for the unit.  And I mean PROFICIENT!  I had a lot who knew what theme is and how to find it.  I love finding out that these guys get it and know what's going on.

So, to change it up I decided to do something different.  While some students still need a little extra support, I'm going to have others do a novel unit.  I chose two books, "Wednesday Wars" by Gary Schmidt and "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton.  I'm going to have some students in each book and I "borrowed" some study guides to help the kids understand the book better.  I'll be working with them too; checking in, asking them questions and talking through any issues they have.

I'm excited about changing this up a bit and I hope the kids like the change too.  So far, those guys jumped right into the books and they seem to like what they're reading.  I'm hoping they continue feeling this way.  I'll keep you updated!  :-)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

learning new stuff...with friends....

I love learning new things...LOVE LEARNING NEW THINGS!  So, when I found out I could take a class about Anne Frank, I jumped on the chance to sign up, spend 10 hours in a room and give up an entire Saturday. 

Now I'm sitting here and everything I keep finding out I'm pretty impressed with.  Especially right now - we're going through different technology sites to use to teach this, I'm signed up for Edmodo to share ideas with these teachers and I now have been introduced to Animoto and Glogster.

I love teacher sharing days when everything actually seems relevant and worthy to take an entire day to learn.  I'm also sitting with two really nice teachers - one who's very excited to learn about everything and the other who is passionate about the subject....these guys get me jazzed and excited to learn as well.  They are a breath of fresh air and really help me get out of my funk of the end of the year "blahs".

Sunday, April 29, 2012

thoughts on a rainy Sunday....

I've been delaying to talk about some things that are happening in our building because there has been so much drama...good and bad.  I just want to post my views, but not for any specific reason other than to post my views and give my thoughts....

So, we've gotten a kind of fruit basket upset as it were for next year.  One of the 6th grade teachers is moving up to the 7th grade and one of the 7th grade teachers is moving to 6th grade.  I can't say that I am unhappy about this move...in fact, I'm joyous.  I don't say this with any kind of meanness...it's just that the teacher that is moving down has...well...been difficult to teach with.  While I believe that he has a lot of knowledge...I'm not sure he was willing to share it.  He could've made our literacy team pretty strong, but chose to do the opposite...he made it much it much harder to do our job.  I really wish it could've been different.  There's a lot that I would like to say - but I'll just leave it with that.

The woman that is moving up from the 6th grade, I believe, will finally make our literacy team cohesive.  She has a personality that is much more compatible with me and the other two teachers that will remain in the 7th grade....actually, anyone could've been moved up from the 6th grade team and we would be fine, but I believe a change will be good for all of us.  What I'm really excited about is getting on top of playing to our strengths and helping our students out.  I'm looking forward to see what we can really accomplish.  We all have ideas that we've been starting to bounce off of each other and each time we do, I get a little more excited and positive about next year. 

For the past few years, I've been struggling and unhappy.  It hasn't been just one particular thing...each year it's different and the more frustrated I get, the more I am looking at what else I can do.  Frustratingly, I really don't know what I else I would do.  One of the things that has kept me in the profession as long as I have, has been the relationships I've forged within the staff at my school, but this year - even those seem to be a point of contention.  I've been somewhat unhappy to learn how difficult friendships can be when aspects of people's lives change.  How one thing can change opinions of colleagues that we've known and been closely associated with for many years.  How one thing can make us forget that we are not perfect.  How we know that we don't have to agree with everything that everyone does, but that NO ONE is perfect. 

I'm hoping things can get better....that a summer can refresh and let us forget a bit.  I'm hoping that my situation will help renew me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

why can't we all get along....

What do you do with that staff member or members that just can't seem to get along with others? The one that constantly has to have drama or be drama? And no, the answer I found out is not to threaten to run them over and then back up to see if you got them....even if you want to. :-)

Last week was full of stress...I found ways to help myself reduce it a bit - exercise, spontaneous dancing in the hallway, pranking other staff who are ok with pranking - DANCE DARES!

But I'm still having issues with one member...one member that I can't figure out. Just when I thought everything was good and perfect this person goes and literally yells at another member of our team. His treatment of her was nothing short of unprofessional...talking to her like she's not important and has no value.

This person, by his actions, deems himself to be all powerful and knowing - like he's the wizard himself! What's sad is that he continually alienates himself from the rest of us. And while - as he states constantly, only has so much time before he retires - makes it hard for us to be a cohesive team. When we have the opportunity to work together and do what's best for students - he chooses to do what he would like to do. It's hard for me to confront this sort of behavior because it's easier when he's not around - at least personally...but it does hurt our team because he does have experience.

I hope that eventually we work things out because we need him and whether he wants to admit it....he needs us.

thoughts on a Tuesday after a bad week....

Well, it's April....it's not quite as close to the end, but the kids are starting to act like it is. This is the time of year I struggle with...not the beginning or middle, but the end. It's the time where you're hoping what you've been doing all year will not get lost as they finish up their year. It's the time where you are constantly giving them the "evil eye" as they act like we've taught them nothing all year. The weather is nicer - not that this winter was bad - and the days are brighter.

Last week was ITBS or what we've now named the Iowa Assessement. Last week was also my week to "hate" people. We put sooooo much emphasis on these tests that not only do we make the kids nuts about them, we make ourselves nuts too. Nothing is ever smooth during these and it doesn't help when communication isn't high on our priority list. We just want OUR test to go perfect and everyone else be hanged.

To me...this is one of the greatest examples of how these tests make our profession a dog-eat-dog world. At a time where we should be collaborating and sharing information to work together for our students - ITBS is the time where everyone just wants their scores to be the ones that shine. Soon new legislation will make our willingness to work together impossible as we compete for our salaries with our peers. I'm afraid of this...I like working with some of my peers...I like having conversations to help each of us think outside the box or build on skills that the others have taught.

Teaching used to be a profession where you just closed the door and did your own thing...thankfully, it's moved away from that. We talk to each other more, work together, build on each others' strengths....etc. We work as a team. I don't like to see where education is going if we lose this.

I hope that we will recover soon from the fallout of the testing that we did last week....I'm ready to move on to something more positive.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dear UNI President Ben Allen....

Dear President Allen:

I am a proud UNI alum with degrees from the College of Education. I have a B.A. from UNI in Elementary Education and Music. I also have a Masters degree in Reading Education. When I was in high school and was thinking about going into education the only school I thought of was UNI. I knew that the university was well known for their education of future educators. I feel as though I received a wonderful experience there. My professors were always accessible, helpful and knowledgeable in their field of study.

As I read your letter I was concerned as to your statements regarding the lab school. You stated that you were not sure if the “lab school was the best model for future teachers”. I beg to differ with your statement. When I was a student at UNI, one of the places a student wanted to go was the lab school. The elementary is set up in an open concept. My first teaching job was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When I was approached about teaching at an “open” school, they asked me if I’d even seen this concept…because of my experience at Price Lab, I knew it well.

You stated that there are many schools within a 30 mile radius that are interested in having UNI students as practicum and student teachers. While I believe this is true, I also remember trying to get placed in schools around the area only to find that they were not available because too many students needed a placement also. However, having the lab school on campus meant that you could still find another placement. Also I believe the level of diversity at the lab school far exceeds any of the schools in the area. Students of international faculty, different races, religions and backgrounds all attend the school. It is probably one of the more diverse, smaller schools in the state.

The next point I would like to address is the fact that the faculty at the Lab School are UNI Faculty. To suggest that the school may not be the best place for future teachers is offensive. These teachers are required to have a Masters degree. They need to be open minded, knowledgeable in their field, and principled in their own academic world. They are models to the education majors that pass through UNI on their way to becoming teachers. They are a part of the UNI faculty. If you are proud of your university faculty, you should be proud of them.

I hope that you carefully consider your decision of eliminating the Lab school. It is not only a school, but a place where future educators can experience “real world” teaching. I believe that I would not be where I was today in my career without it.


Jill Dykstra

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Right now the kids and I are reading "Bad Boy" by Walter Dean Meyers...I really like this book. I'm able to see parts of myself in it. I'm hoping the kids are too. I'm hoping they are able to make connections to it...that they see that all authors aren't perfect....that they can tell their story and it not be perfect.

I try to get my students to see that teachers aren't perfect either and that we have our own stories. I tell them things - I want them to understand that when they feel they are angry all the time, feel like they struggle constantly, and don't seem to have a purpose sometimes...that it will get better....that we, as adults have had this struggle too. I try to explain to them that their words mean something....the way they speak will effect others. Using the "n" word in the halls is not ok...in whatever form they use it...that calling something "gay" - isn't ok either. I often find myself on my soapbox hoping that what I say is making sense to them. And also give it to them from my far from perfect life....

So, let me explain this. First of all, I grew up in a small town where I was the minority population...ok, there was one other girl in the town that wasn't white...but we were both adopted. My family is almost completely white...with the exception of one cousin, who was also adopted. I grew up thinking I was white. I know what you're thinking, "What?! How can that be? Didn't you ever look in a mirror?!" Yes, I did...and physically I knew I wasn't white, but in my mind's eye...I looked like everyone in my town and family.

When I turned 18 and went to college - I found out I was Asian! It was a big eye opener for me. I found out what racism was and experienced it on a first hand basis. It was a crazy time. There were some funny instances...my first weekend on campus I had a girl approach me and ask me if I knew where I was going or if I was lost...you know in that very loud, slow voice? She assumed I couldn't speak English. I had some not funny instances - ones that hurt not only my person but my soul. I came back from class one day to find racial epithets on the board outside my door, I was called names by white students on campus and was told to go back to my home country once from an open window as I walked on campus.

These things taught me that no matter how long I will live in this country, I will never be seen anything more than a foreigner in, what I believe to be, my own country. It also taught me to be open-minded to people that are different than me...to truly listen to those who have an opinion...to try to see the different sides of conflicts. I know that's probably not what you were thinking, but I've also learned that people react to what they perceive is the truth until they are convinced otherwise.

Don't get me wrong...I totally fought injustice in my own way in college....and most of it was physical. I believe that my aggressive and sometimes violent way of teaching people that I didn't appreciate their ignorance wasn't the best way of educating them....but sometimes it takes maturity to get there.

I've just been frustrated lately. The students aren't being taught to respect adults. They show no respect when they tell us to "f-off" and are just told not to say those things....they don't show respect when they stand there rolling their eyes and looking bored as we try to educate them how not to run down the hall like a screaming banchee....they don't show respect when they make fun of their peers and adults and don't expect to called out on their imperfections....they don't show respect when they degrade other genders or their own gender by using names to describe that person.... We're starting to become a generation of people that don't know how to interact kindly with others.

I'm hoping that when I talk to students that I teach, that they see things I've had to learn is something they may have to learn as well. I hope that maybe having me tell them again and again will hopefully rub off. I just keep hoping....

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Tuesday was a pretty good day. Ok, it was AWESOME! Our school got to play host to Rami Even-Esh aka Kosha Dillz. Rami gave 9 - 30 minute workshops with most of the 7th grade. He looked really tired by the end of it...but then gave a 30 minute concert to the kids. He has tons of energy!

The kids seemed to like it and the school has gotten a lot of positive feedback and questions. I'm hoping we can do more stuff like this.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Michelle Rhee

In my humble opinion...most education reformers today are "band-aiders"...the ones that think they can fix the problems of education by putting a band-aid on it, thus "fixing" the problem. These people look at education and say, "well, that's easy, here's what you do....". And viola! It's done!

Michelle Rhee wrote an article in the paper this week. The more I hear about her, the more I'm starting to think that perhaps I should run far away screaming from her brand of reform.

In her article this week she, first makes education seem like a means to an end...just a way to get people educated so they can just get a job. Personally, I believe we do more than that. Teachers don't just know their curriculum. We are the listeners. Kids actually come to us with issues and problems. We help them talk through their thoughts and issues...we sometimes try to make them better people. We understand that these guys are just pegs we're trying to put into holes...they are complicated and have issues just like any other human being.

My second issue with the article and the biggest issue, is with her belief that teachers should be paid based on students' performance on tests. I don't know how I can get people to understand how ridiculous I think this idea is. I still have not yet found a universal analogy that helps everyone understand this idea...so I just stick with one from the past. "Why hello, Doctor So-and-so! It's so nice to see you. We called you in today to let you know that as of next year, we will be basing your pay on how many of your patients have above average teeth (or blood sugars, or cholesterol or blood pressure). Have a wonderful day!" I'm sure the that medical profession will be happy to just turn over their pay raises to their patients.

My final issue with Ms. Rhee is her belief that charter schools are the end all be all. Studies are beginning to come out about how well charters are doing. For the most part, their outcomes are no different from the public schools. I'm sure that there are some exceptions to this...but most of the testing scores aren't any different and it seems that these are supposed to be the "savior" of the educational system. To me...they're just more expensive.

I'm still waiting to hear something coming from reformers that makes me sit up and take notice...not just shake my head and think, "here comes another one"!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


So - our new unit is in full swing. We've got kids rotating through all four of us and we're working with ALL the kids. I've been really happy to meet the entire 7th grade and find out new things about all of these kids. We still have some things to work out and hopefully next year, it'll be even better when we do this.

Right now we have some good things coming through the building and school. From January 17th to the 30th, we are hosting a Holocaust exhibit addressing the group of Jehovah's Witnesses and their persecution in Nazi Germany. It's a cool panel exhibit and we may even have the capability to skype with one of the people the exhibit talks about. I've been able to get some publicity for this and have been really happy with the response from the media. I even had my 15 seconds of fame by being interviewed on tv.

We've had a student panel come in and talk to the students so these guys could practice interviewing skills. All of the panel were former students that had gone to Meredith and Hoover. The kids liked this because they could relate somewhat.

We just recently - this week - had two people (Adam and Mary) come in from our city paper, the Des Moines Register. The two journalists spoke about how to write a good feature story - leads, hooks, etc. The kids got to hear how these guys come up with stories and why they chose the career they did.

Next Tuesday - the 24th - we have another person coming in. Rami Even-Esh is a Jewish rapper and hip hop artist. He's going to work with the kids in 30 minute workshops and then do an assembly. We were even asked by another school if they could send some students and teachers to see what is going on.

I'm so excited about all the stuff we're doing together as a Literacy team. I've been really appreciative that I work with such a group of creative people. Yea, I'm pretty lucky.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

oh boy....

So, I'm still wondering if our governor is actually listening to us or just doing a really good job pretending....I believe it's the second option. He's really not doing a great job of that though...kind of reminiscent of his prior term as governor. On Friday he dropped his plan of how he is going to help the state of Iowa become better in education. There's a lot to this plan...so, I won't cover it all, but just a few things that popped out to me.

First, the teacher training program. I actually find this to be the best part of what he's talking about. It's a way to really train those that want to be teachers to the best of our ability. My one question is how to fund a year of student teaching. If we could set it up like an internship - students could possibly afford the full year it would take to do the student teaching. Otherwise having the state possibly fund half of it could also be a possibility. Now for the weird part. After talking about how there needs to be a rigorous teacher training program, he mentions an alternative certification program. This seems to be the exact opposite of what he's proposing. Why make it easier to obtain the certification if we're wanting strong teacher candidates....?

The second part that I thought was interesting was the Educator Evaluation. I think it would be interesting to see how the "scaled" evaluation could be used instead of the "meets/doesn't meet" evaluation that the administrators administer now. But it's going to come down to the administrator. As it stands right now, I'm still not sure if all administrators are correctly using the evaluation process. When I was being trained on this for my Administrator Masters, I thought it was pretty clear. But we have those administrators that either "go after" the staff or don't seem to have clue one on how to correctly use the process to help their teachers.

The last piece was the "Value added Measures"...isn't that just a fancy way of saying Assessment Based Teacher Pay? I still wish people would understand exactly what this is. It's like saying to a dentist, "your pay next year will depend on the cavities of your patients". I wonder if dentists would go for that.... Sometimes I wish people would realize that I don't sit in my room just drinking coffee and hoping that the kids will just get their education out of thin air. Also, and maybe this is just me, but I don't really think that Terry's daughter, who teaches as well, said, "you know what dad, that's a great idea! Make my salary based on how well my students do on a test!" If she did, we need to forcibly transfer her to Des Moines Public Schools and she if she still believes the same way after a few years here.

This year I am again getting frustrated when giving a pretest to see what skills the students have before we start a unit - I have a student write on his test..."this is just a pretest....I don't care". It tells me that we're testing these kids a lot. They're frustrated and not really wanting another test to tell them that they can't do something.

During this unit my literacy team is trying something different....I talked about it in the post before this one. I can say our first week was kind of rough...but I think it's going to work out. The students like being able to move around, seeing how other teachers teach and having time to get up a couple of times in a 90 minute block of sitting. I think when we're done and have the projects done - it'll be very cool. I'm still very optimistic about how this unit will turn out and our interactions with the kids and each other. I'm trying to also be optimistic about the educational system in general - but the more we try to fix it...the more tired I get.

Anyway, I need to go back to my cushy job...the one where I've been grading papers for the last hour, only to take a break to blog. I still have about 2 more hours left....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

new year...

Tomorrow we're starting a new year. We're also starting a new unit in Literacy. In this unit we're all finally working together as a Literacy team. This has been a want/need of mine for most of the year. The actually feeling of all being on the same page, working together and even grading together.

Each of us gets to play to a strength of ours. One of us is doing the writing part of the unit. Alicia is a whiz at using writing frames. She differentiates so well when she's teaching writing. I love what she can do. She's able to push me in different ways when we're teaching writing. She and Justean will be such a great team together.

Terry will be working with fluency and vocabulary. He has a such a big vocabulary himself that I believe he'll do a great job working with the kids here. Because he's such a wealth of knowledge, I've really wanted him to really work with us in doing rotations and collaboration.

I will be working with the comprehension of the stories...in some way. I have already gotten our novel unit done...questions and all. I'm still working on projects that these guys can do that we can display and show what they know and how they're doing.

I'm really excited about this year. The first two months should be really good. I'm hoping that at the end of the week or the month, I can report back and say some truly positive things.